Belarusian official returns home without student



A Belarusian official sent to Petaluma to secure the return of 16-year-old Tanya Kazyra, a visiting student who refused to return home at the end of her program Aug. 5, has returned to Belarus.

Talks between Pavel Shidlovsky, a special envoy from Belarus' Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kazyra and her host family ended Friday when the girl declined all of her government's enticements to return to Belarus.

Shidlovsky spent one week in the Bay Area and spoke with Kazyra three times. At least two of the sessions lasted for several hours.

Kazyra remains a legal visitor to the United States. Her tourist visa expires Dec. 25 and she has filed for a six-month extension.

She lives with the family of Debra and Manuel Zapata, with whom she has stayed for six weeks each summer for the past nine years. Her visits were arranged the Petaluma- based Chernobyl Children's Project.

One of the program's two chaperones stayed behind with Kazyra when she refused to return with the rest of her group. That chaperone returned to Belarus on Saturday.

The status of Kazyra's visa application is unclear. Her lawyer, Christopher Kerosky of San Francisco, said visa applications can take several months to process.

That leaves many questions about her future. Kazyra is not eligible to go to public school here under the conditions of her visa, but she refused to return to school in Belarus.

"No way,'' she said last week, explaining in broken English her refusal to return to Belarus. "`I love my family and I scared in Belarus.''

Belarusian officials said Kazyra would have been able to apply for a student visa to the United States after her return to Belarus and reunion with her grandmother. Kazyra, however, would have to graduate from high school in Belarus before she could come back.

"Basically he said this is the only option to return and she said `no,''' her host mother, Debra Zapata, said. ``We are backing Tanya in whatever decision she wants to make. There were offers and the answers were `no.'''

The teen has spent each of the previous nine summers in Petaluma with the Zapata family.



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